I never grew up eating in courses. Not that I think many people did. The only early dining experiences I can think of that involved them would be at weddings and Olive Garden. When bruschetta started becoming a thing in the 90s, I remember that being ordered when out for (non-OG) Italian, but it was a slow embrace of a longer meal in my circle. I am now someone who loves eating in courses, but I can see how my preference started from eating one thing at a time, in a specific order, not from minestrone soup or frozen breadsticks.
In choosing to go to an academic high school, I chose to face a mountain of homework each night. Most of my friends went to the neighbourhood school, so socializing was less of a distraction. I quit recreational sports. I committed to the notion that good marks meant a fruitful university path which meant an opportunity to leave Edmonton. Dinner was my study break, and my family situation and picky eating ways meant that dinner was almost always of my own making and eaten in front of the little television in my room—nascent solo dining days. A toasted supermarket bagel with jam, a yogurt cup, a banana. Consumed in that order. No bite of bagel then spoonful of yogurt. No hunk of banana taken while bagel remained. With commercial breaks used to fetch each course, my meal could almost cover a sitcom. I followed suit at school, eating my lunch one element at a time to avoid cramming for a test or getting a head start on homework.
Now, lengthening a meal through courses and eating one element at a time is an act of prolonging my joy rather than procrastinating. I want a meal to linger because of derived pleasure. My regular sack lunch is about six courses, and most dinners at home are four. When ordering at restaurants, a common question is, “Can the dishes be coursed out?” When the answer is yes and I receive a dish before the current one is finished? I’m the difficult one who will send it back because of its premature arrival. #sallyalbrightforever
Not surprisingly, I am especially fond of tasting menus. The longer the better. When a restaurant gives the heads up on a reservation that a meal will take more than two hours, I get a twinge of excitement. (And not just because it’s likely there will be a bread service.) I am absolutely one of those people who views her time at a restaurant as the night’s entertainment; it is not merely what comes before or after. While there are other reasons I like tasting menus (no sharing, curtails indecisiveness), the opportunity to settle in and fully experience the talent and creativity of a kitchen is the main one. The price of tasting menus, however, makes them prohibitive for a typical night out. Weekday asceticism helps out a great deal with atypical nights, but full-on tasting menus are still largely for special occasions.
Except with Contra. The Orchard-Street restaurant has become my favourite in the city, and their regularly changing tasting menu never fails to impress. The price for the six courses (ha, like my lunches) is reasonable and can easily be less than a lot of other places a la carte. That gives me the opportunity to indulge my preference more often than just birthdays. Warm service and a comfortable room add to my fondness.
Thus, I had a less stringent attitude when it came to booking a table at Contra for a much pricier menu—a one-night collaboration with the chef from Copenhagen’s celebrated Amass. With a trip to Denmark still unlikely anytime soon, I didn’t want to say no to the unique event, to the special meal (a few highlights below) that didn’t require a plane ticket. With a wink, my devil argued to my angel that it would be a Christmas present to myself.
She bought it. Literally.